Health director: ‘There are dozens of different reasons and points of view as to why someone might or might not want [a vaccine].’
In order to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, public health experts say between 75 and 80 percent of Americans will need to get the vaccine. But a recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one in three Americans said they definitely or probably won’t get the vaccine.
And some people in Rappahannock County are unsure, too.
‘It’s really about the unknown’
Connie Smith Reid, 56, told the Rappahannock News this week that while she’s not an anti-vaxxer she is also not crazy about the idea of the vaccine. She and her husband have already made the decision not to vaccinate their 17-year-old son. (Despite her concerns, Reid, who was eligible for the vaccine in group 1b because of her childcare business, got the shot at the request of her elderly parents so she could care for them in an emergency.)
“There are several reasons that I was very hesitant,” Reid said, “and one of them [was] that it was developed quickly. Saying that, I’m thankful that there is a vaccine right now. My parents are almost 80 and they want the vaccine. I totally understand people wanting the vaccine.”
But for herself, her husband and her three children, Reid is worried about the lack of long-term study and the potential effects. “For instance, for my daughter to get it, will it cause birth defects?”
Health officials say there is no evidence to suggest women who are pregnant or may become pregnant will be negatively impacted by the vaccine, but Reid is not so easily persuaded. “It’s very hard to trust anything they say because they change it weekly,” she said. “I mean truthfully they change it weekly. Dr. Fauci is on video [saying] masks won’t help you. Then, wear a mask. Then, wear two masks.”
Reid wears a mask when she goes out, she said, because she doesn’t want “the anxiety of the looks … or to put the proprietor, who’s an employee, in the position where they have to tell me to put on a mask.”
But Reid believes the decision to wear a mask should be a personal one, just like the decision to get a vaccine.
Bonnie McAlpin Reading, 29, is another county resident who is unsure about the shot. She and her husband, William Reading, 27, moved to Woodville in October 2020. “Honestly both of us are really healthy individuals and … we felt pretty confident that we wouldn’t be at risk for a severe reaction from COVID-19,” she said.
And Reading was right. Last year she and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19 but experienced only mild symptoms and recovered quickly.
Like Reid, Reading said that taking a chance on getting COVID-19 again seems less risky than taking a chance on the vaccine. She worries the vaccine could have worse repercussions than the virus.
Adding to the weight of Reading’s uncertainty about the immunization is her struggle with an inflammatory autoimmune condition and chronic lyme disease. Given her circumstances, she and her doctor have agreed not to do anything that might interfere with her immune system and make it more difficult to restore her health.
“For me, it’s really about the unknown,” Reading said. “Like right now COVID-19 and the negatives I experienced are known. But from the shot, could they make my illness any worse? So I do have apprehensions.”
‘The vaccine and the virus have very different track records’
Dr. Colin Greene, director of the Rappahannock Rapidan Health District, is eager to talk to the public about concerns surrounding the vaccine.
“The people who are hesitant to take one or more vaccines — they’re not a uniform group by any means,” he said. “There are dozens of different reasons and points of view as to why someone might or might not want [one].”
Greene conceded that as far as long-term side effects go, “we don't absolutely know, because we don't have the experience [with this vaccine].” But, he said, the same thing is true for the virus. “We don't know what adverse effects that [virus] will cause down the road, and they're much likely to be worse,” he said.
“What we do know is that the three vaccines that we presently have have demonstrated no serious side effects thus far, after tens of millions of shots given. We know that in most vaccine studies, serious side effects usually show up in the first six weeks after the shot; thus far we haven't seen any attributable to the vaccine,” Greene said.
He continued: “Another thing we know is that there are serious concerns about some longer-term effects from COVID infection, and only time will tell just how bad and long-lasting these may be. The vaccine and the virus have very different track records with the available evidence.
“The worst, well-known long-term side effect of the virus is death, which occurs in up to 20 percent of people over 80 who catch it, and up to 1 percent of those in their 60s. The virus has killed over 500,000 Americans, and millions worldwide. The vaccine has caused zero known deaths.”
Dr. Greene maintains that it would be “imprudent” not to get the vaccine. “[What] I would ask people who would rather take their chances with the virus is, this vaccine gives you a tiny little piece of the RNA inside the virus. It gives you just enough of it to make the bumpy proteins on the surface, on the outside, the so-called spike proteins, that allow your body to recognize the virus to get rid of it before it can infect you.
“Whereas if you get sick with the virus, you get the whole length of the viral RNA which invades your cell and makes billions of new virus cells that go on to invade other cells.”
As for people with autoimmune and chronic disorders, Dr. Greene said that while there have been concerns about this interaction with some past vaccines, “We have seen no cases of this problem attributable to the COVID vaccine, after tens of millions of doses (over 100 million worldwide).”
He added that the primary condition that might disqualify someone as a vaccine candidate is a history of severe anaphylaxis, or allergic reaction.
And last, Dr. Greene said that the reason the public can trust public health officials is because they are constantly reviewing and reacting to new data. “When something is new, evidence and information pour in pretty quickly in the early days, and guidance is bound to change a bit with everything we learn.
“After a year and millions of cases, we can say with confidence that masks are very effective in decreasing the spread. That statement would have been hard to make confidently in March of 2020, when we only had a few weeks of experience with the virus, and only a relatively few cases.”
This story has been updated